Freetown City Council unveils its development plan


The Freetown City Council unveiled proposals for the development of the city over the next fifteen years at a well attended workshop held at the conference room of the Ministry of Finance on Tuesday April 8, 2014. The World Bank has been working with the Freetown City Council for several years in order to put together a comprehensive plan for the city’s development encompassing land use, energy, transportation, sanitation and waste disposal. This workshop was designed to bring their findings and proposals to a wider audience. Various stakeholders participated, including representatives from the Ministries of Finance, Lands, Local Government, the World Bank, concerned Freetonians and the Krio Descendants Union.


In his keynote address, His Worship the Mayor spoke with passion about the problems of the City of Freetown. He lamented that he and his staff "worked day and night only to collect garbage from the streets." They were "battling to control street trading" in a situation where "everywhere is a trading ground". It was "heart rending", he told an audience unaccustomed to hear His Worship speak in such frank terms.


Turning his attention to the situation of land ownership in Freetown he was equally forthright. He informed his audience that devolution of powers to the City Council from the national government had not progressed as it should have. The function of issuing building permits had not been devolved to Council. "Our  lands have been abused. Our beautiful mountains are being destroyed", he cried. He told his audience that he had invited the Minister of Lands to the workshop; a glance around the room revealed that the three Ministers of government who were scheduled to speak, the Ministers of Finance, Lands and Local Government, were all absent.


A representative of the World Bank, Keith Garrett, presented a visual display of Freetown as it is now and as it is hoped to be in 2028 (view the Freetown Municipality Urban Structure Plan 2013 - 2028 here). He spent some time discussing traffic management and ways this could be improved, the attendant benefits of this in improved productivity for locals and investors. The World Bank predicts that Freetown will have 1 million new residents in fifteen years. Mr Garrett maintained that widening roads is not a good or permanent solution to traffic congestion, as experience has shown that in a few years the widened roads will again be congested. He likened this to loosening one’s belt as a cure for obesity.


In a fascinating presentation, the Ghanaian development and town planning consultant Frank Tackie shared the Ghanaian experience with the audience. He revealed that Accra was indeed some way ahead of Freetown, as several participants had intimated, having gone through several World Bank supported development plans.  "Freetown can be better or can be worse, and it will take hard work to make it better," he warned his audience. The problem of governance was the primary factor in the success of any development plan - technical issues played a lesser role. He revealed that he felt sorry for the Mayor, who seemed to have one hand tied behind his back. The city's numerous petty traders were symptoms of an ailment in the economy, he advised. Mr Tackie gave Power Point case histories of numerous development projects in Ghana, including a golf course on reclaimed land and a marina. Government offices and car parks did not need government money, he told a captivated audience, as these could be funded by the private sector. There was always plenty of money available for these things; it was simply a question of mobilising it.


He showed pictures of Airport City, now the most wealthy part of Ghana, in which government did not spend one cent. "Out of nothing, something comes. If you saw this place about ten years ago you would not have believed - lots of places like this in Ghana." He revealed that in the wealthiest areas of Ghana land was being sold for as much as 3 million USD/acre.


Mr Tackie also spoke about Takoradi - the oil city, Tema and Kumasi, and efforts to spread traffic concentrations away from Accra to these areas. He cautioned that there had been some mistakes made during the World Bank-led development interventions in Ghana and he urged Sierra Leoneans not to repeat those mistakes. He ended on a somber note: “You can overtake Accra, but you can also go down. The choice is yours.”


The morning session was taken up by the various addresses and presentations; in the afternoon participants divided up into six working groups and attempted to come up with comments and proposals on the development plan in six different areas. This input will be used by the FCC in developing its final master plan for the city’s development.